Author: Jim Stalker

Seeking answers – one post at a time. Sales guy – family guy – thinks a great guitar solo can make the song. Based in Granite Bay CA – where there is plenty of granite and not much bay.


Seasons 1 – 6 of The Gilmore Girls was something close to TV perfection. Each episode served up likeable characters delivering hilarious obscure-reference-peppered dialogue at a “Bringing Up Baby” breakneck pace. Viewers had to pay close attention with a cultural dictionary by their side not laughing over the lines making fun of Charlie Rose impacting REM sleep.  Seriously, what  prime time TV show ever made fun of Charlie Rose and REM sleep by themselves let alone in the same joke?

Unfortunately this series about “a mom and daughter who are best friends”  languished first on the WB then the CW – never gaining the wide audience it deserved. Plus, that title really sucked. I’m sorry – but “The Gilmore Girls” sounds like the Golden Girls – no thanks.

Still, The Gilmore Girls did launch the careers of Lauren Graham (Parenthood) , Alexis Bledel (Mad Men), Matt Czurzy (Good Wife) and Melissa McCarthy (Mike & Molly and Bridesmaids).  Recurring appearances of veteran actors Edward Herrmann and Kelly Bishop as Lorelei Gilmore’s parents (and New England Blue Bloods) were some of the show’s wittiest scenes. The tone captured was pitch perfect.

The real star of the show however was the series creator and chief writer Amy Sherman-Palladino. Her vision of the mythic Stars Hallow and the rich characters that inhabit it was fully realized – singular and unique in TV history.  There really is nothing else like it. This voice and uniqueness might be because Sherman-Palladino and her husband Daniel crafted the majority of scripts themselves.

Contract disputes locked the Palladino team out of what was a dreadful last Gilmore Girls season (please skip season 7). This was an unfortunate thud to simply terrific (and family friendly) television.

Those pining for the whip smart dialog had Palladino’s failed Parker Posey vehicle, “The Return of Jezebel James” that lasted only 7 episodes in 2008. Now there is “Bunheads” on the hard to find ABC Family channel. Look around, it is worth finding.

Bunheads is the story of a dancer (played by Sutton Foster) who after abruptly loosing her husband is thrust into the life of her husband’s mother (played by Kelly Bishop) who just happens to be a dancer herself with a charming studio somewhere in the central coast of California called Paradise. Foster must choose between making a life at this studio populated largely with high school girls, or trying to make it as a dancer in second or third tier markets. Apparently quirky neighbors/guests abound in the CA’s Central Coast. Most every episode features a dance number – not the quick cut Glee crap either – real choreographed dancing.

Make no mistake Bunheads is essentially a reboot of Gilmore Girls. Lead actress Sutton Foster could be Lauren Graham’s double and Kelly Bishop is essentially playing a subdued Emily Gilmore called Fanny Flowers. There is also the instantly recognizable Sam Phillips soundtrack that so effectively set the tone of GG. All that is missing from this version are terrific male characters like Luke and Dosey that helped balance out heavy female vibe of Girls.

Bunheads returned in January after a short hiatus and the recent episodes have all been better than the first ones. The show might have found its groove.

Let’s hope so.  We need more Palladino humor in our lives.

Bunheads has not risen to the level of Gilmore Girls…at least yet. With a single episode referencing Franny & Zooey, Fiorello Laguardia, the Rockford Files, and Elvis falling asleep on the throne there is hope.

Plus, no god awful laugh track.


Best Movies of 2012

Great end of the year for movies.

In mid December, you could stumble into a mall multiplex, pick any theater at random, and you would have a very good chance of seeing a great movie. It was that good for a couple of weeks in 2012.

2012 produced a half-dozen simply outstanding films and at least half a dozen very good ones. For the average moviegoer that’s one good film a month. Pretty good for Hollywood.

The best of the bunch was Argo. A “based on a true story” entertainment of the highest order. Argo was both a throwback in style to 70’s Warner Brothers as well as a coming of age for its director, Ben Affleck. Snooty critics may favor other films, but this really was what a Hollywood movie should be – a fun time at the movies. Argo provided suspense, laughs, terrific acting and “I didn’t know that happened”  discussions as patrons left the theater. A sure nomination for best picture – the real credit for the film’s success goes to screenwriter Chris Terrio’s nearly bullet proof screenplay. Briskly paced, with great supporting roles – Affleck too has acknowledged this great Oscar worthy screenplay.

Nearly its equal is the very different Silver Linings Playbook. David O. Russell, a director without a single directorial misstep in my opinion, masterfully adapts freshman novelists Matthew Quick’s quirky story about manic depression, gambling, and a love-breeding dance contest. Russell is nearly without peer in his sure handedness of each shot and transition. His direction elevates a good story to a great one, letting Bradley Cooper mesmerize us with his dazzling performance. Who knew?  And then there is Jennifer Lawrence, Katniss from the Hunger Games. Radiant and sly – she’s the one to watch.

Like many, I wanted more scope out of Lincoln. The story felt too narrow. Considering all the talent working together on that film, I wanted just a bit more. But really, I am being greedy. What was there was wonderful. Tony Kushner’s words, John William’s score, Janusz Kaminski’s photography, Spielberg’s direction, all anchored by what is sure to be another Best Actor win by Daniel Day-Lewis. Great movie – perfectly executed just not enough.

Flight reminded me what a great director and actor can do working with an emotionally charged naturalistic script. Oscar winner Robert Zemeckis after over 10 years chasing digital animation technologies returned to live action directing Denzel Washington in one of the Oscar winners finest and most understated performances. This movie took me places I just didn’t see coming, and did it in the most gentle way. This material has been covered so many times before, often heavy handedly with a moral billy club at each mile marker providing warnings then culminating with group hug ending drowned out with a Motown tune. None of that was in Flight, and it was a joy to see this story unfold the way it did. This was a patient movie, that took its time, and could have only been made by this coterie of veteran talents. Denzel deserves an Oscar nod, as done the screenwriter John Gatins who has crafted something truly wonderful here.

Finally there was Ang Lee’s Life of Pi. The only movie of 2012 whose use of  3D was deliberate and additive not just a money-making afterthought.  Please see this in 3D. It’s not Avatar, but really one of better live action uses of this technology. The film is simply gorgeous. Nearly every frame a wonder of composition. What could only be called “movie magic” – the long and mostly riveting stretches on the boat are an amazing collaboration between director, cinematographer Claudio Miranda, editor Tim Squyres, screenwriter David Magee and the rather large special effects crew that brings the Tiger to life.  The movie is 20 minutes too long – truly too much of a good thing.

The rest:

  • Django – Jarringly offensive.
  • The Hobbit – Does anyone, after 9 hours of the Lord of The Rings, need another 9 hours of Tolkien? Only when done by Peter Jackson.
  • Looper – Sci-fi is not for everyone – but this was very very good sci-fi.
  • 21 Jump Street – Stupid, stupid comedy – even without a talking bear a favorite comedy for the year.
  • End of Watch – This will bum you out – big time. But so well done. Tobey Maguire continues to dazzle in every role he takes.
  • Zero Dark 30 – Have a problem with torture-maybe not as much after this brisk you-are-there drama.

All worth a view.

Movie fans would also enjoy some of the many franchise/remakes this year. Batman, Spiderman, James Bond, Avengers, and Les Miserables – all very good films that did great at the box office ensuring more remakes for the foreseeable future.

Finally there is the talking bear movie, Ted. Not a great movie, to be sure, but for many, their first introduction to Seth MacFarlane’s wild brand of comedy.

Many of us have known of him for over a decade, but for mainstream America, Seth is about to get his close up as he hosts this years Oscars. That’s casting.

Happy New Year!


Great Use of Rock in Roll in Movie Scores

From “Somewhere over the Rainbow” on Hollywood learned that the right song at the right time can take a film places images and dialog could not do on its own. Try not to think about bicycles when you hear “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head”.  It’s impossible if you saw Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Beginning with the Blackboard Jungle with “Rock Around the Clock” Hollywood has repeatedly gone to Rock and Roll to enhance its movies. This use of rock songs reached a new level when Mike Nichols went directly to Simon and Garfunkel for songs that would evoke the story his film the Graduate.  There, the music is inseparable from the film.

When it works, like with “Mrs. Robinson”, it’s terrific. When it doesn’t it becomes a banal cliché – the troubled family getting back together singing an overly loud Motown tune like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” into a hairbrush.

curtain pulled backScoring popular songs into Movies and TV for plot value has become common and often the sign of lazy direction or plot development.  Having trouble having the story line and characters add up? No problem, simply license a familiar song and insert it into a dot connecting montage.

This trend has become so common that it was lampooned in the film Team America nearly a decade ago in the song, fittingly titled, “Montage”.

Still, integrating a familiar rock song into a film is very high art.  When it works it is memorable. The wrong song at the wrong time can take the viewer out of the film or show. “Where did I hear that song before” runs through the viewers head instead of what is happening in that moment to the plot.

The use of Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” in Argo was a terrific use of the right song at the right time.

So in the wake of  Oscar night, I though it a good idea to think of “The Best Use of Rock Music in Film!”

Again, this is not “incidental” music or songs composed specifically for the film – this is the use of songs that had a life prior to their use in a film sequence.

Here are my choices for the best examples:

The End – The Doors – Apocalypse Now. Perhaps the greatest ever. The song by itself is epic and cinematic.  It’s the song where the police would haul away Jim Morrison in handcuffs after going on his Oedipal rant. The way Coppola uses the song to frame his great film puts both the film and the song into a new light.  The perfect example of using rock music in film.

Sister Christian/Jessie’s Girl – Night Ranger/Rick Springfield – Boogie Nights. Boogie Nights soundtrack is flawless. The loose recreation of the Wonderland murders against the backdrop of a coked-out Alfred Molina – with some naked guy shooting off firecrackers – elevates both the film and these two very pedestrian songs to a higher level then they could have achieved without each other. Total chaos as art.

Stuck in the Middle with You – Steelers Wheel – Reservoir Dogs. Tarantino has raised the bar for all auteurs with his great soundtracks.  Pulp Fiction has at least four great song/sequences. Not sure he succeeded this year with Jim Croce’s “I Got A Name” in Django Unchained but he clearly did with Steelers Wheel juxtaposing their giddy song with torture and terror.

Surfin’ Bird – The Trashmen – Full Metal Jacket. Kubrick is a master of using music in his films. I love Chris Issak’s “Baby Did Bad Thing” in Eyes Wide Shut – but that movie is just too weird. “Also Sprach Zarathustra” became known as the “2001 theme” – that’s how powerful Kubrick’s images where when matched to classical music. In Full Metal Jacket he underscores the existential absurdity of Vietnam war then with this throw-a-way novelty song we all vaguely remember hearing somewhere.

Helicopter Sequence from GoodFellas. We all know Martin Scorsese is a master filmmaker. But this sequence – and the particularly driving “Toad” drum solo by Ginger Baker of Cream – illustrates the manic flavor of the era and the paranoia that went with cocaine is simply brilliant. Nilsson, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Muddy Waters, George Harrison, and Cream – and Scorsese –  wow!

Tiny Dancer – Elton John – Almost Famous. Could have chosen “Sparks” by the Who, but this song – one of Elton’s very best – takes on a whole new meaning as the band buries their internal hatchets as they sing along remembering it’s the music that matters and brought them together in the first place. We see it and feel it. Former Rolling Stone music critic Cameron Crowe always has great music in his films but the time he takes with this scene perfectly matches the time Elton takes to get to his chorus. Brilliant. Another great one from Crowe is John Cusack lifting the boom box playing “In Your Eyes” in Say Anything rejuvenated Peter Gabriel’s career.

There are of course many others.

What are your favorites?


Rock and Roll Videos

Music fans have plenty to watch.  There seems to be an endless supply of documentaries about music and the people behind it.

Here are four rock documentaries – all excellent.

search-sugar-300x168Top of the list is “Searching for Sugar Man” – out on DVD and streaming. This film won the 2013 Oscar for best documentary. Man tells the improbable story of Rodriguez – an unsuccessful (or so it seems)  and enigmatic singer-songwriter who despite two albums never rose above obscurity and cult status.

But wait! There is more to the story. What follows is remarkable.  More detective story than music doc – the story unfolds and is a must see for music fans.

grohl“Sound City” is the first film (of many one hopes) by Foo Fighters leader Dave Grohl. Sound City is a look back at the legendary Van Nuys recording studio where hundreds of Gold records were made in the seventies and eighties. This film is a labor of love for Grohl as Nirvana recorded “Nevermind” there. Grohl’s rock star status shows in the high production values and access to music industry icons who all weigh in on the studio and what made it great.  Rick Springfield notwithstanding!

Showtime rolled out a three and a half hour “History of the Eagles” giving the band its first real close-up (with the full cooperation of the band).  It’s well done and thorough – although perhaps a little light on some of the nastier details. Still, there is enough here to know them better and give them some of the respect they feel they deserve. Not sure Henley is the “chronic malcontent” David Geffen calls him – but I am certain I wouldn’t want to mess with either Henley or Fry.

Cream drummer Ginger Baker has been chronicled before – for a good reason – he’s a fascinating loon who just might self-destruct at any moment while on camera. He’s the inspiration for Spinal Taps drummers who BEWAREOFMRBAKER702spontaneously combust. Journalist turned filmmaker Jay Bulger travels to Africa to hang out with rock and rolls “first innovator of the drum kit” to gain some perspective on his life in “Beware of Mr. Baker”.  ERic Clapton, Jack Bruce, Stewart Copeland, Neil Peart (and others) chime in on the drummer (incredible) and the man (insufferable).  Baker is a man obsessed with cigarettes, the sport of Polo and his legacy as a musician.  This is a curiously fascinating film. Not sure I enjoyed it – although glad I watched it.

If Sound City isn’t enough Dave Grohl for you, do yourself a favor and find “Foo Fighters: Back and Forth” – this is a fantastic documentary of one of the great rock and roll stories of all time. Whoever thought the drummer of Nirvana would go to lead a band that would become more popular than Nirvana ever was? This movie tells that story giving lots of screen time to rocks most charming spokesman since Pete Townshend, Dave Grohl. A must see.

Finally, there is “End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones” from 2005.  Great band, great story, a great documentary with full access to these members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.


The Wire – Greatest Show Ever?


IMDB, which I have found to be the most reliable source of movie and TV ratings, gives HB0’s The Wire an unprecedented 9.7 out of 10 rating based on over 20,000 votes. This score makes The Wire the highest-rated show on IMDB. For comparison purposes, Shawshank Redemption, the highest-rated movie, gets a 9.1. The point is, I am not blowing smoke when I say this may be the single greatest serialized television show ever.

The bad news, few have seen the show. Good news, everyone can now enjoy it anytime thanks to streaming services like HBO Go.

The Wire was the creation of ex-Baltimore detective Ed Burns and former Baltimore Sun journalist David Simon. Over the course of five seasons, with the help of a truly extraordinary ensemble of actors and over 200 speaking roles, Burns and Simon – along with a stellar group of writers (some famous) – use the series to explore some of the most vexing problems in America today. Inner city crime, class warfare, drugs in the inner city, education, politics, and in the final season the decline of journalism.

What you most need to understand about this show, it is a show made by writers who explore issues in a journalistic fashion. Well researched presentations of facts, without much overt advocacy toward any conclusion. The viewer, in the end, must decide what to think of all that is presented. This is in stark contrast to most network offerings that telegraph and spoon feed perspective to the viewer. This may explain why it never really gained a wide audience. It requires the audience to think and it’s hard to watch. This lack of spoon feeding perspective may also explain why the series won the Peabody Award for journalistic excellence.

One story per season with a clear journalistic focus told across 10-13 episodes (depending on the year).  This depth of story, along with over a hundred speaking roles each seaon, makes this the ideal series to binge-watch over successive nights. Viewing this way ensures you’ll never be completely lost, while growing to appreciate the issues explored, You will also get emotionally involved with some of the great characters on the show. Omar, Bunk, Bubbles, Stringer, Barksdale, Carchetti, Daniels, Lester, and of course McNulty.  Each worth of an overlooked Emmy – but and there are many others.

Nothing on tonight? Do yourself a favor and go out and stream The Wire Season One.  Chances are you will be hooked and see the Greatest Show Ever!


5 Great Series to Watch on DVD

Watching DVD’s of serialized TV shows is a superior experience to watching them in their original weekly broadcast format. Watching the episodes one after another helps the viewer become more engaged in the plot, and become more sympathetic to the characters. Best of all no waiting on a cliffhanger, you can immediately find out what happens firing up the next episode. Oh, and no commercials (not that anyone watched them anymore thanks to DVR’s).

Here are some great series to view on DVD:

  1. 24– While this show has been inconsistent over it’s seven season run, riddled with cliche after cliche, and one-dimensional characterizations, more than any other show makes the case for the superiority of the DVD format.  I know many people who have gone through all 24 hours in a weekend because it’s just that addictive.

For those living in cave, Jack Bauer (played by Keifer Sutherland), is an ex-military black-ops agent working for anti-terrorist agency CTU. Often going rouge, Jack likes to yell a lot, and involve his family into terrorist activities.  This creates cliffhanger upon cliffhanger. He does all this over the course of 24 hours with a cell phone than never requires recharging.

The typical plot is that the US enters a terrorist situation that can only be thwarted by the rule breaking Bauer, who thankfully gets to kick some serious terrorist ass before the episode ends.

Not the best series out there, but good in a very cheesy and addictively entertaining way.

  1. The Wire– Reviewed at length elsewhere on this blog.
  2. Alias– Some may prefer Lost when it comes to J.J. Abrams (Star Trek) material, but really this is where is all starts. He built his brand here with this show. Week after week of twists and turns against a backdrop of heavy action will have you scratching your head and hyperventilating. Eventually the twists in the plot became too much for the show, which spun out into being ridiculous. The first two seasons were a very big deal – remarkable.

Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) is a double agent (or is she) working for a super secret government agency (or is it) SD-6. To go beyond this is pointless, you just need to watch it.

The production values are terrific, and the action keeps coming.  Many now familiar faces appear in the show including Victor Garber, Terry O’Quinn, Greg Grunberg, and Bradley Cooper. Quentin Tarantino guests on four episodes and Ricky Gervais (the office) is featured in his first surprisingly effective dramatic role.

Garner is the star however. Her athleticism and believability in a role requiring as much as it does, is remarkable. Most people put off by Garner have never seen this show. Check it out, it will change you mind and entertain you at the same time.

  1. The Shield – Vic Mackey, the role of Micheal Chiklis’s career, is a duplicitous street detective who consistently breaks the rules in the inner-city of Los Angeles. What engages the viewer is that sometimes the rulesneed be broken, and breaking them produces good. Other times, not so much…and there is much carnage as a result.

Seven excellent seasons of wonderful acting from a mostly unfamiliar cast that actually came to a real conclusion in the final season. Writer Shawn Ryan has achieved something truly remarkable here, a cop show void of cliches. It seems like a new genre when you watch this show with its extensive use of the hand held cams, and quick edits.

It is the characters in the orbit of Mackey however, that both elevate and ground the show. Dutch (Jay Karnes), Wyms (CCH Pounder), Aceveda (Benito Martinez), and particularly Shane (Walton Goggins) are each characters worthy of a show themselves. All add a conscience around the often deplorable exploits of Mackey. Forrest Whitaker and Glen Close provided season long and often riveting guest appearances.

Landmark TV.

5.Prison Break – As much as this is a poor man’s 24, the first season of this show is so good, so meticulously plotted and executed, it has to be included here. Consistently suspenseful in an ominous prison setting with great unknown lead actors. The terrific supporting roles made some of the subsequent seasons tolerable in the midst of utter ridiculousness (at one point they had to break into a prison!). The character of Theodore “T-bag” Bagwell, in particular, a great creation, creepy and fascinating. Seasons 1 & 2 Excellent, Season 3 Good, Season 4 – a mess.

There are many other excellent series I could include here: The Sopranos, Deadwood, Battlestar Galactica, Friday Night Lights, Everwood, Gossip Girl, The Office (British version), Arrested Development, and Rescue Me (to name a few).  These were not included because they don’t have a cliffhanger element found in the series mentioned above. I will address those series in future articles.

Get control your viewership and order some of these up today!


10 Overlooked Great Guitar Solos

There are dozens of lists of great guitar solos on the internet. Stairway to Heaven, All Along the Watchtower, Comfortably Numb…the usual suspects. Indisputable.

Here are some other equally great solos, perhaps overlooked. Some well-known players, some not so much (and unfairly so). If you play guitar or love guitar solos, they are all worth hunting down and checking out.

  1. Inca Roads – Frank Zappa- One Size Fits All

Zappa is a great guitar player. The problem is there is just too much material of his out there, and much of it is odd and not for everyone. Despite great musicians and musical complexity, his lyrics and song structure often distract rather than enhance a proper evaluation of his playing.

One Size Fits All (along with Apostrophe) may be one of his most accessible albums. A great song collection with a terrific band this four-minute recorded live solo of hammer-ons and pull-offs through a half on wah-wah shows what he could do when he would “shut up and play his guitar.” Superb.

  1. Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape – Bill Nelson/Be Bop Deluxe – Live in the Air Age

Bill Nelson is one of the forgotten shredders of the late British Invasion. Using an ES-335 and two major seven chords, Nelson gives a clinic through this four-minute solo. Doing right finger tapping before Van Halen and string skipping before Eric Johnson, he just kills it with his tone and vibrato – although he does run out of steam at the end of this solo. His harmonic range, a step beyond the pentatonic riffs of his Island mates, were a real precursor of what was to come with the lead guitar in the eighties.

  1. Poem 58  – Terry Kath/Chicago – Chicago Transit Authority

Jimi Hendrix allegedly said Kath could play “better than me,” and a listen to this two-chord jam might shed some light on what Hendrix saw. He is all over the place here with his heavily overdriven tone. Melodic, dynamic, and lightning-fast – an exceedingly indulgent solo that is an excellent bookend to 25 or 6 to 4.

  1. Spiral – Larry Carlton/Crusaders – Those Southern Knights

Carlton’s fame is tied to his excellent studio work (Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan, Hill Street Blues) as a session guy and many forget he was a member of the Crusaders for many years. Spiral is one of the few solos where he gets to stretch out during his studio heyday. All the Carlton trademarks are here. The tone, the bends, the vibrato, all anchored by melodic lines. Carlton’s fluid playing over complicated changes with arpeggios was his trademark. This solo very much falls into the description for any Carlton solo, “tasty!”

  1. Have You Heard – Pat Metheny/Pat Metheny Group – The Road to You Live

Metheny is a legend, but like Zappa, has so much material, and much of it straight ahead jazz (and inaccessible to rock fans) – so where to start? I say right here. This CD  provides an excellent overview of his playing in a both a supporting and front and center role within the context of some of the best Pat Metheny Group Songs.

This solo is remarkable in so many ways, Pay particular attention to the dizzying open string chromatic runs in the middle of the song. Amazing.

  1. Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad – Eric Clapton/Derek and the Dominoes- In Concert

Clapton at his absolute finest. After an opening call and response between Clapton’s wah-wah and Jim Gordon’s drums, Clapton takes us through riff after riff against minor chords in the first break. Then, he wraps it up with the major seven chord finale that offers some extreme tastiness as the band backs off, slows down, and lets Clapton have the spotlight. Back when Clapton was still kind of God.

  1. Monmouth College Fight Song – Robben Ford/Yellowjackets – Casino Nights Live at Montreux

Robben Ford and his band, the Yellowjackets, were making some of the most melodic and engaging jazz music of the late seventies. Ford’s blues-based jazz, was then as it is now, one-of-kind. This solo captured live at the Montreux Jazz Festival is Ford as the absolute peak of his blues/jazz hybrid period playing effortlessly over half a dozen changes. The expanded edition of this CD is terrific with formally unavailable performances by Carlton, Feiten, and Ford.

  1. Jungle Fever – Buzz Feiten/ Neil Larsen – Jungle Fever

Buzz Feiten may be more famous for his tuning system than his guitar playing. This is a real shame as he was one of the most exciting and melodic soloists in the seventies and eighties when he played with Hammond Organ Master, Neil Larsen, in Full Moon, and later Larson/Feiten. This available-on-import-only CD is a must-have for anyone who loves that era of jazz/rock fusion.  Sudden Samba is a classic. George Benson recorded Windsong. Both songs are on this CD.  Also, great solos from the late Micheal Brecker.

The solo on Jungle Fever is particularly strong in the way he introduces the guitar in the breaks, and then build the solo to the impossible riff at 5:31. The rhythm section of Willie Weeks and Andy Newmark is spectacular. Just one of many great solos on this overlooked gem of a record.

  1. I’m Home – Steve Lukather/ Greg Mathieson Project – Baked Super Live 

Another import-only CD but W-A-Y worth the effort to track down. A young and enthusiastic Steve Lukather, filling in for the recently departed Larry Carlton has a lot to prove, and does just that over the course of this excellent CD. The late Jeff Porcaro lays down mile deep grooves (drummers! great CD)  over Mathieson’s memorable compositions.

Lukather plays brilliant rhythm, adds atmospheric swells, and when the times comes, kicks it up about three notches to create a guitar climax on this highly melodic song. The slow build showcases the signature style that would be so prevalent in the eighties on tracks he played on for Lionel Ritchie, The Tubes, Boz Scaggs, and so many others.

  1. How Do Those Fools Survive – Skunk Baxter/Doobie Brothers – Minute by Minute

Skunk is on many great solo lists already for his great solos with Steely Dan, like My Old School and Ricki Don’t Lose That Number. (Personally, I love Night by Night). Here the future defense contractor analyst (google it, bizarre and true) takes his plugged straight in the board guitar through the fade out and just blows octaves, blues, chromaticism, melody, and a terrifically entertaining solo.


Top 5 Rock and Roll Album Debuts

Top 5 Debut Albums/CD’s of All Time


There have been some auspicious debuts in Rock and Roll. These have to rank near the very top. Not necessarily my favorite records of all time. These are not desert island discs -at least for me. All have been highly influential and feature great songwriting. The main thing they share, is each one came on the scene like a comet. The Beatles, Clash, or Bruce Springsteen – all of whom had terrific debuts – they weren’t as fully formed in the sense that these five were. Some may even argue that the five below are their best works.

An omission here is Appetite for Destruction by Guns N’ Roses. The genie came out of the bottle on that one, and they are still trying to get it back in.  Feel free to replace any of the below with Appetite.

  1. Are You Experienced – Jimi Hendrix Experience

Jimi Hendrix was a phenomenon in London making the British scene like Austin Powers with his single Hey Joe. This record, uneven in parts,  presents a fully-formed future icon who revolutionized the guitar with each over-driven E7#9 chord (and there are many).

The superior US version shows remarkable range. From the hard rock of Purple Haze to the blues of Red House: from the tenderness of The Wind Cries Mary, to the experimentation of Third Stone from the Sun, no record ever before or since said “hey world look at me, the world will never be the same.”

It hasn’t been since.

  1. The Pretenders – The Pretenders

In the middle of US punk importation of bands who had attitude and no musical aptitude came the odd combo of Ohio native Chrissie Hynde with her band of from the UK. Every song encapsulated the angst of the Clash, with the pop sensibilities of the Kinks. It was a delicious combination made even more so when their leader said, “not me baby, I’m too precious, F off!”

James Honeyman-Scott was a guitar chameleon, playing a dizzying display of rhythm and single note lines behind Martin Chambers beefy drumming.

The star though was the enigmatic front-woman whose vulnerable-yet-strong vocals and terrific songwriting would carry her career for decades with a variety of bandmates.

  1. Boston – Boston

Saturated guitars, overdubbed vocal harmonies, and songs that came out of some sinister time-less machine have ensured that thirty years after the fact, somewhere a track from this debut is playing somewhere. As much as I dislike this record, I can not deny its craftsmanship and durability.

Mastermind Tom Scholz created in his basement enough songs for two mega-selling, genre producing (corporate rock!), arguably great records. The late Brad Delp’s vocals are terrific, even if no one could recognize him in a police lineup and their life depended on it. Without Delp, Scholz is just another tall vegetarian with a guitar and degree from MIT.

  1. Elvis Costello – My Aim is True

The reflective singer songwriter wave was over. The wimpy Topanga Canyon guys had put a fork in the genre spewing ersatz introspection, Joni turned to Jazz, and Cat Stevens was praying he wouldn’t drown (ending his career in the process).

Then came this record. A new kind of singer songwriter named Elvis. From the poignancy of the title cut to the hard Farfisa-rooted ska of Watching the Detectives. This was a stunning debut of an artist who is still relevant today, either as a musician or host of the TV show Spectacle.

  1. Van Halen – Van Halen

Rock guitar stunningly reinvented. Edward Van Halen grabs the torch that began with Chuck Berry and was most recently in the hands of Hendrix. By the time you are finished Running with The Devil, EVH makes guitarists all over the planet weep with the solo guitar instrumental Eruption, where dive bombs and right handed finger tapping are both introduced and expanded in the same song.

Then there is the rest of the album.

David Lee Roth might be the best front man in the history of rock. He could kick the crap out of Roger Daltry’s,  sleep with more chicks than Rod Stewart,  all while makingthe guys laugh their asses of.  The Van Halen Lee Roth combo was irresistible and more than other band brought some much needed fun back to rock and roll.

Any list like this is bound to have detractors.

Boston will take the most tomatoes.  They will never make the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but the rest will. Let me ask you, if you had to choose between Styx, REO Speedwagon, and Boston who do you choose?

Then there are the critics darlings, which maybe sold a collective million copies collectively. I am talking about Leonard Cohen, Velvet Underground, Patti Smith, MC5, Love, and the Talking Heads.  These records didn’t sell for a reason, they suck. They are the musical equivalent of Beowulf, historically interesting, but God bless you slogging through them.


Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2017

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the last decade has turned into a bizarre melange of “artists” seemingly harmonized only by being in the music business at some time.  Madonna, the Ramones, and last year’s questionable “long overdue” inductee Chicago are indeed strange bedfellows.

Then again so were Leonard Cohen and Janis Joplin – but turns out they were real bedfellows. Pretty rock and roll.

The general feeling from rock music watchers is whatever great intentions started the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Inductees Hall and Oates, Abba and a slew of darlings with nary a hit or much broad exposure/appeal have tarnished whatever nobility the Hall had at its inception.

Now each year, there is a seeming scramble to find truly worthy inductees, that can meet the new requirements of making an entertaining HBO awards show.

Even this has become a challenge. Evidence Chicago’s inability to get their schmaltzy lead singer Peter Cetera to come collect his award and sing at least one hit for old times sake.

With this backdrop, here are the 2017 inductees:

  • Joan Baez
  • ELO
  • Journey
  • Pearl Jam
  • Tupac Shakur
  • Yes
  • Nile Rogers – Special Award for “Musical Excellence.”

Do any of these acts actually belong to be alongside Chuck Berry, Dylan, and the Beatles? Except for Tupac, I don’t think so. I have serious reservations about all of them

Baez and ELO aren’t Rock and Roll. Neither is Yes, but their contribution to progressive rock and influence upon other inductees is undeniable. BTW, couldn’t you have inducted them last year before founder and bassist Chris Squire passed?

I get Nile. He’s awesome, well-liked and inducting him solo saves the hall of the shame of bringing in his disco band Chic who have been passed over year after year.

I get that Pearl Jam was ground zero grunge, but they are no Nirvana. Plus, if rabid fandom is the new criterion, who’s next, Phish? Plus, anyone who saw Cameron Crowe’s documentary “Twenty” with Eddie Vedder providing a tour of his home is likely still throwing up.

Tupac was an icon and was murdered, so probably best not to comment anymore on that.

That leaves Journey.  Steve Perry is arguably one of rock and roll’s greatest voices. Thier early albums were terrific explorations of progressive rock whose hallmark was virtuoso playing and good songwriting. When Perry joined, however, the band began a slow turn to bathos. Before crap like “Be Good to Yourself” and “I’ll be Alright Without You” was coming out, Journey pioneered “arena rock” effectively walking the tightrope between rock and pop. Songs like “Wheel in the Sky” and “Separate Ways” have undeniable rock and roll bona fides.  But hits like “Don’t Stop Believing” and “Open Arms” are more Celine Dion anthems than rock and roll.

So what to do? How about tapping David Foster to build a new wing of the hall, where Perry can sit alongside Cetera, Abba, Hall and Oates, Billy Joel, Madonna, and other not-yet-inducted mega-sellers like Dion and Mariah Carey.  ELO might fit in there too. See, everyone can be happy.

The good news for this year is that tributes to Prince and Bowie have the potential for a great HBO show.